Putin sets his sights on Asia to counter US policy

China and Russia unite as they pledge to stand together to fight US protectionism

Photo: EPA Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomes participants to a main plenary session of the EEF.

The Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, represented a clear attempt by Moscow to assert itself more in the Asia-Pacific region, taking another thinly veiled swipe at Trump's economic policies. During the conference, not only did the Russian president meet with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, but he also engaged with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon, giving them promises and asking for backup in return.

On Monday, for instance, Putin expressed desire to finally achieve a peace treaty with Japan on the disputed islands off Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido, which were seized by the former Soviet Union at the end of World War II and now both nations have laid claim over them. Abe did not immediately respond to Putin's remarks, but his government later said the territorial claim by the two countries needs to be resolved first before any treaty is signed, dashing Russia's hopes for strengthened relations with the Asia-Pacific power.

Just a day later, however, Putin and Xi expressed their firm determination to unswervingly safeguard bilateral ties as both nations seek to counterbalance the United States' power on the international stage. During their meeting Tuesday on the sidelines of the EEF, Putin said Moscow has a “trusting relationship” with Beijing “in politics, security and defence”, while Xi, recalling their productive meetings in Beijing and Johannesburg this year, noted that the close high-level contacts between both states have demonstrated that the two countries give top priority to the ties on their diplomatic agendas, and that now they are at “an all-time high level”.

Moreover, outside of the political and security domain, China and Russia also seemed to enjoy an extensive economic dialogue, aimed at “opposing unilateral actions and trade protectionism” and “forging ahead with the construction of a new type of international relations”. Russia has, for instance, announced plans for numerous cooperation projects with China, including a new method of inter-bank transfers and a joint credit agency that seeks to create a shared financial and economic infrastructure that will allow them to function independently of Western-dominated financial institutions.

A key reason that has recently brought Putin and Xi together is that Moscow's relations with Western powers are currently strained, following years of sanctions over Ukraine and Crimea; concerns over Moscow's alleged meddling in the 2016 US election; plus the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, which has been widely blamed, internationally, on Moscow. On the other hand, Beijing is facing rapidly rising concerns that the US-China trade war - sparked by US President Donald Trump's “America first” foreign policy - could not only cost billions of dollars to its economy, but also escalate into a cold war between the two countries.

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